Thursday, November 30, 2006

Starship Troopers, Inc.

Contrarian readings of literary classics--whether Hemingway or RA Heinlein--often may be more informative, or, at the very least, more entertaining than the usual hagiographic type of analysis common to the lit. professor. The literary contrarian, at least one of a skeptical rather than dogmatic nature, generally begins with the realization, as did that great contrarian Bertrand Russell, that literature is never to be mistaken for Truth itself, whether that flavor of Truth be historical, scientific, or logical; whatever "Hamlet" is, neither the play nor the character has the same, as they say, ontological status in reality as the facts pertaining to the life of a Nero or a Napoleon.

Since literature--specifically fiction--does not really point at facts as say a history --or biology-- text does, one might ask what precisely is a literary narrative. Of course many varied answers might be given: it's an art-form, akin to say a musical composition, with metaphors intended to demonstrate something about human existence, or the narrative suggests something about psychology, or it’s a tale about Oppression, or in the case of science fiction, the narrative concerns technology, and perhaps the political consequences of applied technology. Literary types indeed specialize in extracting codes from literary texts: whether they are obvious or not, and with a writer such as Robert Heinlein, the code seems fairly detectable--though that is not necessarily a fault in a writer.

Heinlein's fictional code is not so innovative; RAH himself admitted he wrote for money (he was, granted, fairly qualified to write on scientific topics, given his experience in the Navy, and his studies in mathematics--for a semester or two, at least--at UCLA). One might term the
Heinleinian code militaristic-stoical, but there is more to it than that--a valuing of science
and mathematics, along with the Semper Fidelis trumpet blast: imagine a Marcus
Aurelius who spins partial differentials, and also pilots spacecraft, and leads a platoon against "The Bugs." (Lucas's Hans Solo a rather Heinleinian sort of icon as well, tho' perhaps a bit too capricious compared to the iron-willed Heinleinian officer).

Starship Troopers, both the novel and the film adaptation, reveals much of the Heinleinian code (tho' one might grant RAH softened a bit later, with say Time Enough for Love--yet RAH's anti-pacifist address to the cadets in Annapolis in '73, as well as comments in favor of the US
presence in the Vietnam War and in support of Reagan’s Star Wars dreams might indicate otherwise). ST features a fairly complicated if somewhat pulpish plot; the movie sort of ramped up the original pulp vision (some might say improved upon it). Apart from the narrative details, the pronouncements of one-armed Lieutenant Colonel Jean V. Dubois are often read as Heinlein himself speaking. Dubois is the protagonist Johnny Rico's high school instructor in History and Moral Philosophy. Indeed, compared to some action-packed sci-fi, the novel ST features quite a bit of dialogue concerning moral and political themes, and the shortcomings of democracy; and there are some who have interpreted Starship Troopers as somewhat fascistic, which is certainly not an impossible reading. Like many conservative writers attacking democracy, Dubois-Heinlein insists on the necessity of individual sacrifice--and the masses are generally held to be of quite less importance than the heroic officer-scientist. The novel--though it's been some years since last perusal--though hardly reaches a Mein Kampf level of exterminator prayer: Rico himself is a Filipino--there is a somewhat Americanist-like suggestion of meritocracy; that is, if Johnny Rico himself masters those partial derivatives and his flight training, as well as, presumably, his Latin Gradus Ad Parnassum via Marcus Aurelius, he too will join the elite. But the Terran Federation of ST is a police state of sorts, or at least a society ruled by the military: only those citizens willing to serve their society by enlisting for two years of Federal Service are really "free."

This sort of Grunt-worship is a common enough theme in sci-fi and popular culture: the Soldier as Everyman--and the non-soldier as schlemiel, more or less. For Heinlein the soldier of course is not merely a grunt (as he is say for most Hollywood war epics, or say Hemingway's stories--tho' Krebs in Soldier’s Home is a fairly bright if shell-shocked chap); Grunt is a
quantum physicist, expert pilot AND soldier: a yankee Uebermensch of
sorts--and RAH's one-time pal and partner in El Lay diablerie, L-Ron, Big Daddy of Scientology, also not far from that "Social Darwinism with integrals" perspective.

The popular success of both RAH's novel and the film adaptation years
later should not surprise us. (there are, of course, more than a few Heinlein fans who have objected to Verhoeven's Starship Troopers Movie ) The code appeals to most Americans--old or young; and the film version demonstrates that the cast can be made more multicultural and sexxay (perhaps there are others who might agree the high point of the flick was Denise Richards showing her tits), and the code remains intact--and of perennial interest and marketability.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Neither Republican nor Democrat

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Kid Galilee at the University of Chi-town? Say it ain't so

Ipsa quidem virtus pretium sibi

Rawls if not Hobbes and the utilitarians begin with an acknowledgment of ethical relativism; or, shall we say, instead of theology or Platonism (or the Marxist state), utilitarians and contractualists proceed from a secular and naturalist perspective based on individual needs and desires. The point is to overcome the relativism by something other than making obvious "pragmaticist" points such as "Ethical principles vary from society to society," or "the law of gravity seems substantially different than a statement about ethics."

There are problems with the utilitarian tradition, of course: if 25% of the population of the state of, er, Gonzalopolis were illegal immigrants from Tazmania, and they were committing the great majority of crimes (and say getting away with it, usually), liquidating the Tazmanians as a whole would produce a greater good for the rest of the State (and perhaps would be lent support by an Off the Tasmanian proposition on the Gonzalopolis Ballot), yet that would hardly be considered Just. That'a bit obvious, but anyone arguing for a non-objective, ethics-by-consensus (or say ethics as Wittgensteinian language game, multiculturalism etc.) perspective runs into that problem. Nonetheless, utilitarian considerations--consequentialism, in other words--apply to most political or ethical decisions, especially at the macro level. Who would deny that in many if not most circumstances that a possible act or policy decision--at either personal level or political -- must be assessed in regards to the possible effects entailed by implementing the proposed policy? ( environmental concerns--say regarding cattle , or petroleum---would hardly seem capable of being put into a pure "deontological" framework). But consequentialism doesn't appear to work in ALL circumstances (i.e. Justice), and consequentialism could possibly be injust in certain situations (a tyranny of the majority etc.). And justifying egalitarianism, or perhaps denying it--does not seem to be purely a matter of consequentialism (Hobbes assumes some degree of egalitarianism as a given, and Rawls seems to suggest that is the rational choice).

Consider this situation: Somebody has raped Mrs. Higginsbottham at the mall--. The town is up in arms. Vigilante squads form: and yet no one is found matching her description. After a few months, the cops locate a bum, X, who vaguely looks like the suspect, but who is in fact innocent (say he has a criminal record as well). They arrest X and the DA files charges against him, and put him up for trial; X doesn't have much cash, and he takes the public defender and the jury finds him guilty. (Or imagine more sinister scenarios--falsified evidence, etc.--not uncommon). The townspeople are relieved; the newpaper features the bum as Hannibal Lector du jour etc. X's off to Pelican Bay.

What can the ethical relativist/hedonist or anti-foundationalist really say about this? More pleasure was provided to the community by not upholding justice; the "facts" of the matter it could be argued were shaped for a good purpose; it was more useful to deny the truth (doesn't "use" have something to do with effects, and effects with pleasure/satisfaction, yada yada yada), put away the innocent, then it was to allow the evil to go unpunished. Regardless of the amount of pleasure or satisfaction provided, however, the injustice of the DA's actions is not simply a matter of what a majority of people would say about it (in other words, if the majority of a town voted in a rule in effect claiming that "it's ok to put away the innocent when it's good for the community," that would still be injust--thus a Justice "universal" seems to hold apart from individual opinion/choice).

Related to the problems of ethical relativism is Hume's celebrated dictum that one cannot derive an "ought from an is." (the fact/value distinction). There have been arguments offered against Hume's skeptical chestnut. One of Rorty's mentors, Gewirth, argued for a rationalist ethics which he felt was sufficient to overturn the Humean/util./hedonist school. Gewirth's argument is quite convincing, though it's probably not so appealing to literary hepcats, nor to Starship Troopers of the USA, nor to postmods: his argument is based on what sorts of rights (or a freedom from being constrained) any rational agent claims--and values-- simply by being an agent. Most normal humans value a "right" of some sort--or at least the absence of constraints and limitations--to pursue and attain their economic/biological/social needs and requirements (say, like, education, employment, a mate etc). Thus it's reasonable to assume other normal human agents value their own freedom to attain their ends as well; indeed, Gewirth argues that's its necessary for people to do so (though one could imagine various Malthusian/anarchistic scenarios where that identity is erased). There may be ways to counter Gewirth, but there does seem to be a "moral fact" involved in an agent's own pursuit of the goods and resources needed to sustain his own life, and his own valuing of his freedom to act--and it's not a great stretch to see that other agents also need (and value) the same freedom to pursue their own ends, and that agent X is obligated to recognize agent Y's own entitlement as it were, given a sort of human-identity criteria--and Gewirth's rational ethics are not too distant from Kant's imperative (though Kant's arguments leave something to be desired), nor so different from J.C. AKA Kid Galilee's injunction, in that old collection of poesy, the Beatitudes: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you, man." During a war-- or a Katrina--or for a Pol Pot or Nuremberg trial, it might be difficult to uphold such a view, and marxists or mafiosi would probably object; at the very least, Gewirth put Master Hume in check.

Rawls offers another method for getting around the fact/value issue, related to Hobbes: asked to choose a society (and with a high probability of living in the world he chooses), one would probably choose various policies (or Hobbes' covenants) which are more or less "just" in conventional terms (say, to honor contracts/promises): that one should honor the contracts one consents to does seem to be a "fact" of civil society (and justifiable on utilitarian grounds as well)--most rational humans would choose to live in a society where their contracts were honored (that's a simplication, but will suffice for a blog post).

Thus there are various ways to get around Hume (and utilitarianism, instrumentalism--which may owe something to Hume--and amoralism), however quaint or moralistic or tendentious they appear. (and one might say there is a determinist--naturalist ala Darwin--if not Nietzsche and BF Skinner--perspective denying ethics of any sort--or at least those based on agency or choice). If one simply takes the Humean dictum--or say a pure egoism-- as faith (and many humans--even ones in philosophy departments--obviously do take amoral hedonism or machiavellianism as an item of faith) then, well, it is as pointless to discuss the issue, as it would be to discuss religion with a fundamentalist Xtian or mooslim. Of course, the Machiavellian-Aristotelian school (and Nietzsche also not far from a sort of updating of the Nichomachean Ethics) cares little for any sort of axiomatic ethics, deontological, contractural or otherwise; and in a very real sense, most American institutions--whether education, business, bureaucracy, journalism--uphold that vaguely stoical and nationalistic "force-policy" to some degree, and one doesn't have to empathize with some fancy French deconstructionists to perceive that. And even a hip Stanford-like pragmatist--or literatteur-- probably prefers some flavor of Machiavelli to, like, Kant's imperative, "Act as if every act was a maxim to be applied to all."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Master Thespian

JW Booth

Lincoln's Assassination

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


(Hint Hint, Texass Red)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Victor "Doc" Laxateur: Royal Nonesuch, Emeritus

Cal Skank, in conjunction with La Iglesia Catolica de Kern, Inc. is proud to announce that this year's Lifetime MENDACITY Award has gone to Victor "Doc" Laxateur, a Cal Skank English professor and lay priest who has, in the words of Dr. Hector Cabronando, director of the CSU Ad Hoc Committee on CA Literature and Bureaucratic Support Services, "done good work in furthering the cause of Catholic bureaucracy and Truth at CSUK, the Peoples' College of Kern." Doc Laxateur was especially known for his ability to teach the masterpieces of American literature from a Catholic perspective: indeed, as one former Cal Skank student, LaSheequa Johnson, claims, "Doc Laxateur showed me that a writer like Mark Twain was not just another dead cracker, and Doc L. also took the time to explain the details of the ROYAL NONESUCH to me. He keeps it real for the peeps." Doc Laxateur's lifetime companion, Steven "Canberra" Cartier, was awarded the ROYAL NONESUCH in 1998 for his contributions to California bureaucracy.

A celebration of Doc Laxateur's lifetime MENDACITY achievement award is scheduled for May 23 at Nuestra SeƱora de Guadalupe Banquet Hall and Bingo Parlor, with notable CSUK Professors Mike and Kim Assclown also scheduled guests.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hitchens on the flawed reasoning of the Lancet Report

"Make the assumption that some percentage of those killed by the coalition are the sort of people who have been blowing up mosques, beheading captives on video, detonating rush-hour car bombs, destroying pipelines, murdering aid workers, bombing the headquarters of the United Nations, and inciting ethnic and sectarian warfare. Make the allowance for the number of bystanders and innocents who lost their lives in the combat against these fanatics (one or two, alas, in the single case of the precision bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, just to take one instance). But who is to say how many people were saved from being murdered by the fact that the murderers were killed first?"


Hitchens raises an important point about the Lancet report, a point typically disregarded by the Mommycrats of blogland: only about 1/3 of the casualties estimated (but not proven) by the Lancet crew are attributable to US/Brit. forces. Hitchens also alludes to the fact that Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet magazine, is "a full-throated speaker at rallies of the Islamist-Leftist alliance that makes up the British Stop the War Coalition." That a marxist-muslim might have an interest in exaggerating (or "skewing" the data, as the stats people say) the number of deaths and showing the US/Brit. forces in a poor light should not be surprising: like fundamentalists of all types (Islamic or Christian), most marxists have no problem bending the truth when necessary to suit their needs. The Lancet "methodology" was based not on verified deaths, anyway; instead the researchers counted the deaths in a few urban areas in Iraq, and then, merely by analogy, extended the death ratio to other areas, where they did not perform any research. This is known as "cluster" sampling, and there are more than a few researchers who have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the results.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism appears on my reading list about once every 6 months. I admit to my dilettante status in regards to these matters, but Quine seems so concerned with semantic issues that he overlooks other analytical issues. Those regular consumers of Contingencies who care about such things might recall that the analytic/synthetic divide originates with Kant:

"Either (1) the predicate B belongs to the subject A as something that is (covertly) contained in this concept A; or (2) B lies entirely outside the concept A, though to be sure it stands in connection with it. In the first case, I call the judgment analytic, in the second synthetic."

Two examples which show the difference to some degree:

"Lawyers are attorneys" is 1 (analytic--synonymous in broad sense)
"Lawyers are professionals" is 2 (synthetic--or empirical in broad sense)

Quine denied the distinction. But there's more to it, it would seem. For instance, are logical connectives to be defined synthetically--Is the premise of an argument no different than the conclusion? Obviously the end result of a derivation or deductive argument is not the same as confirming a premise: and defining a variable is not the same as say putting some variable into a function and getting a result.

There is a difference-- fairly important difference--between working towards a deductive truth via equations, functions, reductio ad absurdum, etc., and, on the other hand, establishing "truth" via empirical confirmation, whether in a chemistry lab or economics research paper. But specifying the cash value of analyticity is not so easy. Even a hard-core materialist or behaviorist, say like Skinner, needs to establish his own ontology, and thus needs to know what he is attacking. If you do deny analyticity and really platonic realism and "mind" it does seem that a Darwinian meat popsicle view of human nature follows, or at least is much more plausible.

So, in effect, we are not completely sure what Quine's removal of the analytical/syntheic divide "entails" as the good Panglosses say. Is it just semantic and linguistic--that "meaning" (or reference) must proceed by synthetic means (observation, really)? I follow his linguistics to a degree: the definitions of words are always changing (if not ostensible in many cases), thus it is not impossible that "lawyers are attorneys" (analytic) may be, eventually, as synthetic as say a "lawyers are corrupt."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Humiliation Incorporated

"Democrats" who make use of the same cutthroat tactics that the right-wing GOPers do--character attacks, scandal mongering, the usual snickering sexual insinuations, etc.--in effect defeat their own cause. Foleygate amply demonstrated that machiavellian aspect of new-school liberals who will do nearly anything to tarnish the other side. Instead of hammering on BushCo for, say, possible lies or misrepresentations about intelligence regarding WMDs or the "safe haven", many liberals now seem preoccupied with getting the dirt on someone from the opposing side. That sort of ID politics is not merely juvenile but an inverted sunday school morality itself--one might call it Norma Raeism. Marxists themselves are often as capable of a sort of do-gooder morality as nauseating as that of dixie biblethumpers.

Foleygate was mostly a non-issue, except for the hysterical sort of soccer mommy common to Kos or DU or TeeVee (or this clown's site ). OK Yeah he's slimy etc. but Foley wasn't even charged with a crime. However unsavory, he could have done what he allegedly did in Toronto legally. Whether Bush and Co. lied about or greatly misrepresented intelligence data regarding Iraqi WMDs or the "safe haven" idea: that's a f-n issue. Whether Lay and Enron or other energy powerbrokers met with Schwarzenegger and somehow arranged the Recall: another case. Some of the more bizarre aspects of 9-11--the crash into the Pentagon especially: that's a case. Possible vote fraud in Florida 2000: a case.

In the Brave New World of Media, Inc. anyone suspected of a crime or moral failing is found guilty as soon as his face appears online or on TeeVee: bada bing, Public Enemy #1. And Mommycrat hypocrites deny the presumption of innocence clause to suspects nearly as often as conservatives do....even fundie morons such as the Colorado preacher Haggard have a right to a fair trial. And Haggardgate has the makings of another pseudo-scandal which will play well with liberal pundits and populist muckrakers who have yet to realize that a Feinstein or Hillary are to the right of most hick conservatives.
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